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What Exactly is Entailed in Being a Witch?

Someone asked me this the other night, and it sparked a long discussion. When I post here, I talk frequently about things going on with my husband and I, or about my progress (or lack thereof) in my writing, but rarely do I take the time to discuss that whole "Witch" part of my life. Sadly, this is also a reflection of the amount of time I spend practicing the craft, which may or may not explain why I can talk the talk far more easily than I can walk the walk. The easy part is to start with what isn't entailed, and what is most easily misunderstood.
Being a Witch is not:
  • Cursing people
  • Sacrificing children, small animals, large animals, etc.
  • Worshiping the Devil (we don't believe in him)
  • Consorting with evil spirits/demons
  • Casting spells on people to make them do what we want
And other fun movie-magic interpretations. I can't control the weather (Champaign-Urbana would be forever 65 degrees and partly cloudy with just enough rain to water my garden if I could), or stop time, or read people's minds, or throw fireballs, much though I occasionally desire that particular ability. I mean, what a party trick, right?

So, if being a Witch isn't like Practical Magic or Hocus Pocus or The Craft, then what is it about? Well, that's much more complicated. Entire books are written on the subject, and I own about two hundred of those. Depending on who you ask, you'll get a slightly different answer on the topic. My favorite phrase, and the one I find most accurate is, "ask six witches, get seven answers." I ask you to keep this in mind, but I'll do my best to cover all the bases. This will take a while, so I recommend grabbing a cup of tea before continuing.

The concept of recurring cycles is an important starting point. Everything around us happens in a cyclical fashion. The moon waxes until it is full, then wanes until it is dark, and back again. The seasons change from spring, to summer, to autumn, to winter, and back to spring again. We are born, we grow old, we die, but each generation yields to the next. Life, and everything in it, moves in a circle. Some pagans believe that the soul itself moves on after death to be born into a new life; I include myself in that group, because I find it inconceivable that in one mortal lifetime we could possibly do anything "good enough" or "bad enough" to define us for all of eternity. Life, death, rebirth. The greatest cycle.

On the topic of being "good enough" or "bad enough," I must point out that we do not believe in heaven and hell in the sense that many understand it. The point is not to earn eternal reward and avoid eternal punishment, but instead to learn from our experiences and become a more perfect (in the sense that perfect means complete and not without fault) being. What we are striving for is much closer to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment, wherein we truly understand the nature of the universe around us. Again, this is achieved by existing in and co-existing with it, rather than by trying to exercise mastery over it.

So, wait... If Witches believe in not trying to master the universe around them, why does the new age section of the bookstore have books like Silver's Spells for Abundance? See, here's where things get complicated. Do Witches do spells? Yes. But what does that mean, exactly? A spell is, in most ways, a more formulaic method of saying a prayer. Just because we strive to live in balance with the universe and our fellow denizens therein, doesn't mean we don't also need a little help now and then. Cast a spell to ensure that I come off as confident in that job interview and don't bungle the answers to any questions? You bet I do. Light a candle and ask for blessings on a loved one who is going through health troubles or hard times? Regularly. It's sort of a contract with the universe. "I'm making you this little offering, and in return, I need a little boost while I'm doing this." Similar concepts exist in other religions. A good friend of mine, and a devout Christian, on learning that my mother had breast cancer for a third time, fasted for three days and prayed for a swift recovery. Not too far from what I did, minus some candles and herbs. It was the same when my dad's ladder collapsed under him and he landed on it, which landed on his arm.

There is a saying that whatever energy we put out into the world comes back to us three times. If we are kind, loving, and caring people, then we get those same things from others. If we are cruel, or hateful, we get that back, too. Because of the scientific rule that energy (and matter) can be neither created nor destroyed, but converted from one to the other and back, I tend to be of the opinion that "three" is more symbolic of the idea, "as many times as necessary to teach us the lesson." It is from this karmic concept that we also get the rule of "do what thou wilt, an it harm none," which is frequently shortened to what I feel is the most important part, "harm none." After all, if you hurt someone else, especially with active intent, it's only going to backfire on you. Is it really worth the brief cathartic enjoyment?

Obviously that's not to say that it's an easy rule to follow, or that I think I'm anywhere near being without fault. I can be quite the sarcastic, catty bitch when it comes down to it, but I'm striving to be aware of it when it happens, and  to move myself away from that behavior. It's one of the reasons I finally made the decision to switch careers, as I realized I was too negative, too much of the time, and that my stress level had a great deal to do with that.

That said, does it mean that if you are someone who consistently puts out positivity into the world, that no one is ever going to be mean to you? Of course not. But if you keep an upbeat attitude, a) it's more likely to diffuse the situation and b) it's less likely to bother you for very long.

The last thing I'll touch on here is the concept of divinity. Most adherents of any religion believe that a great and powerful something created the universe and everything in it. That something then, throughout the ages, taught rules by which to live in its universe, and through those rules, humankind learned something of the nature of the Divine. But, when you stop for a moment and think about it, we are talking about a being, a force, a power great enough to create the entirety of the cosmos and all of the beings within it. How can the mortal mind comprehend that? We need some sort of filter by which to understand divinity, because it is beyond our comprehension. There is frequently said the Christian comment that "The Lord moves in mysterious ways." The ancient Greeks had a more direct approach; any mortal to whom Zeus revealed himself in all his glory would simply be burned away to ash on the spot, so the sky god frequently appeared in other forms when he descended from Olympus.

Divinity is vast, and we are, frankly, not. Yet many people wish to connect with the Divine in some way; so it is that people often spend time searching for the religion that speaks to them. It is my belief that we are all connecting to the same ultimate source of creation, but each of us in the way that best works for us. For some, this is through the teachings of Christ, for others Mohammad, or Buddha, and for some it is by searching through the old myths of civilizations long gone for stories that touch us in some way by showing us that aspect of the Divine that resounds with its reflection in us. The myths are there to teach us lessons, some of which have been lost to time and cultural context, but some of which can still be interpreted by the modern mind and heart.

There is a great deal more I could talk about, but I feel this is a decent starting point when it comes to a summation of my spirituality into a single essay. I'd love to hear your questions, comments, and thoughts, and if you provide me with enough material, I'll be happy to answer questions in future posts. In the meantime, I hope this shines a bit of light into what makes me tick.

Bless├Ęd Be,
~Kieran

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